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Native American Ranks in a Tribe (Social Structure) [2024 Updated]

Within every group of people, no matter where they live, there has to be cooperation and respect.

Without both, there would be chaos. The same can be said of Native American tribes. Everyone has to get along and obey the group’s rules if they intend to be a part of the community.

North American Cultural Areas

Clans within the Tribe

Clans were family groups within the larger tribal nations. Clan members had the same ancestry and history. Usually, clans had specific clan names, such as Wolf Clan, Eagle Clan, or Bear Clan.  

The Clan Mother was regarded as the leader and what she said was law within the clan. Marriages were, for the most part, made between members of different clans within the tribe.

There could be clans that were related but lived within different tribes sometimes miles away.

Mohawk Kings

Leaders of the Tribe

The tribal leaders of the tribe were called chiefs and were chosen by the rest of the tribe. The tribal chiefs were almost always men.

Related: Roles of Native American men and women

A tribe could have more than one war chief. For example, one chief could be the leader for hunting, another could be the warrior leader, and another could be the chief during day-to-day living.

The History And Progress Of Four Indian Kings

The chiefs were regarded with respect and honor as it was believed they were the wisest men in the tribe. All members of the tribe looked to the chiefs for guidance.

The older a person was the more respect was given to them. One of the chiefs that everyone revered was the Medicine Man, who could heal illnesses and wounds and who led the people in spiritual ceremonies.

Chief Wapello

The women of the tribe were respected and they were the leaders within their own home. How the family was fed and clothed was the responsibility of mostly women.

At times, an older, wiser woman could be elected as a Medicine Woman.

Philly Med Man

Infighting and Crime

Squabbles among the men were usually resolved by a decision of the Chief. He could arrange a competition between the two men and the disagreement was settled by who was the winner.

There may be squabbles among the women and the Chief of the tribe would often be called upon to settle the argument for them.

Portrait Of Indian Chief Sitting Bull

If a serious crime was committed against a native Americans tribe member were often punished by shaming the offender. They could be expelled from the village for a certain length of time or forever.

They would be forced to fend for themselves or try to find another village that would accept them.

Quiz Time!



  1. What happens when people living together do not get along?
  2. What is a clan?
  3. How were chiefs chosen?
  4. Who was the Medicine Man?
  5. What happened to a member of the native Americans tribe who committed a serious crime?
Winnebago Wigwam


  1. If people cannot cooperate and get along chaos happens.
  2. A clan is a group of related people who live within a tribe.
  3. Chiefs were chosen by the members of the tribe.
  4. The Medicine Man was a very important Chief and led the people spiritually.
  5. A person who committed a serious crime could be expelled from the tribe.

Native Americans

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